Christmas carols in other languages

(Note to Mods: Not sure if this should have just gone to GQ, but since it is a question about music, I put it here. Please move if deemed appropriate)

Does anyone know if Christmas carols that are sung in English are translated into other languages so that they rhyme in those languages and still make sense? Or do they just translate them word-for-word and disregard the rhyming?

“A Translation is like a mistres: either beautiful and unfaithful, or faithful and ugly” – supposed to be a Russian proverb.

I know that English-Polish and Polish-English translationstry for sense and rhyme, rather than being literal. Even worse than not rhyming, the carols wouldn’t fit the meter of the songs, I think, if you tried to be literal. I suspect song lyrics are always pretty freely translated.

Example: In Polish, “Jingle Bells” starts out

“Dzwon, dzwon, dzwon,

That translates as:
“Bell, bell, bell
Bell, bell, bell…”

“O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum…”

Korean songs often don’t rhyme.

I grew up singing this Spanish Christmas song to the tune of Jingle Bells. There’s also a link within the link that may have other examples (this is the only one with which I’m personally familiar).

You tell me. Silent Night was originally written in German. Do you think the song works better as a rhyming loose translation or a strict nonrhyming one?

I always lean towards keeping the meter of the song whenever possible. Rhyming second. And meaning last; as long as it doesn’t go off in left field and start singing about holy car factories.

As another example, you can see a translation of “O Tannenbaum” next to the original here. I never learned it in English, so I don’t know if that’s even a popular translation, but it rhymes and is actually pretty faithful. The Ernest translation does rhyme, but isn’t as faithful.

For an actual English carol going to another language, here’s a Spanish translation of “Away in a Manger” - which starts :

Jesús en pesebre, sin cuna, nació;
Su tierna cabeza en heno durmió.

and has the same rhyme scheme as in English.
I think Christmas carols are popular enough that a certain amount of effort has gone into producing decent translations over the years.

Whenever I hear the music of “Jingle Bells” I start singing

Vive le vent
Vive le vent
Vive le vent d’hiver…

I learned it years ago in French class – the meter and rhyme are good, but the meaning is only very vaguely consistent. Basically it talks about the wind blowing in the pine trees.

There are several other carols that I know in both French and English. In all cases, the meaning is loosely translated to preserve rhyme and meter.

Silent Night is Noche de Paz (Peace Night) in Spanish. Starts like this:

Noche de paz, noche de amor
todo duerme en derredor.
Entre sus astros que esparcen su luz
bella anunciando al niñito Jesús
brilla la estrella de paz,
brilla la estrella de paz.

Literally: Peace night, love night, all sleep around. Among its stars that disperse their beautiful light, calling out to Jesus child, shines the peace star, shines the peace star.

Granted, the first line can be taken to mean something very different.

“O Come All Ye Faithful” was originally in Latin:
Adeste, Fidelis,
something triumphantes,
Venite, venite in Bethlehem.
Natum redetur, Regem angelorum
Venite adoremus
Venite adoremus
Venite adoremus,

Laeti Triumphntes.

and it’s Natum Videte
– CalMeacham (last generation of altarboys to memorize the Mass in Latin), from memory.

Just this past weekend I was at a wedding ceremony where the final hymn was replaced with a Japanese version of Silent Night for the Christmas season. The meaning seemed to keep fairly close to the original, but there was no rhyme at all. Since Japanese songs typically don’t rhyme, this wasn’t a problem.

*Herbei, o ihr Gläubigen, fröhlich triumphierend,
O kommet, o kommet nach Bethlehem!
Sehet das Kindlein, uns zum Heil geboren!
O lasset uns anbeten, O lasset uns anbeten,
O lasset uns anbeten, den König!

König der Ehren, Herrscher der Heerscharen;
Du ruhst in der Krippe im Erdental:
Gott, wahrer Gott, von Ewigkeit geboren!
O lasset uns anbeten, O lasset uns anbeten,
O lasset uns anbeten, den König!

Kommt, singet dem Herren, O ihr Engelchöre!
Frohlocket, frohlocket, ihr Seligen!
Ehre sei Gott im Himmel und auf Erden!
O lasset uns anbeten, O lasset uns anbeten,
O lasset uns anbeten, den König!

Dir, der du heute bist für uns geboren,
Jesu, Ehre sei dir und Ruhm, Dir, fleischgeword’nes
Wort des ew’gen Vaters!
O lasset uns anbeten, O lasset uns anbeten,
O lasset uns anbeten, den König!*

The Japanese “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer” is “Akahna no Tonakai”, and can be found at The lyrics follow fairly closely, if in very Japanese style (Rudolf becomes “Mr. Red Nose Reindeer”).

Deck us all with Boston, Charlie,
Walla Walla Wash, and Kalamazoo

Hark! The Herald Tribune sings,
Advertising wond’rous things!

Nora’s freezin’ on the trolley -
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley-ga-roo.
Don’t we know archaic barrel?
Lullaboy lillaboy Louisville Lou!
Trolley Molly don’t love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!

-Good King Wenceslas - LOOK OUT!
On yo’ feets uneven…

-hol’ on, hol’ on, you is got too many "bum"s in yo’ carol.

-Too many bums?! I don’t need this insult. I quits!

OK, back to the subject.

Poetry of any sort - songs included - are the wolfsbane of translation. If the original doesn’t rhyme, then you’re pretty much off the hook there; but if it does, a good literary translator will feel bound to match rhyme and sense as closely as possible.

At least as I see it, anyway. The Swedish version of “Jingle Bells” keeps the rhyme, but strays pretty far from the sense.

My Latin teacher from high school translated many carols into Latin. The only one I can remember (Aside from Adeste Fidelis) is Jingle Bells:
Tin, Tin, Tin
Tin, Tin, Tin
Tin, Tin Nabulum
Currere Inter Nives
Quantum Gaudium.
Or something like that…